Stories are everywhere: movies, books, magazines, and throughout our social media feeds. Storytelling helps people build connections and retain information quickly. So why aren’t you using them for your employee communication?

Tune in to Episode 7 of Employee Buzz, to hear from associate director, Eric Goodman, and our host, Alyssa Zeff, as they talk about how corporate storytelling techniques can be used to engage employees.

Episode transcript: 

Alyssa Zeff:
Hi, everybody. I am Alyssa Zeff. Your song lyrics servant, Dunkin ice-tea drinker, and Game of Thrones fanatic. Fanatic might be a little extreme. I'm here with Eric Goodman, who's an associate director here at Davis & Company. Eric is a board game expert, a connoisseur of beer, and a Game of Thrones fanatic as well. Can we have a moment of silence for Game of Thrones which recently ended? I was thinking we could have a moment of silence for everyone who died on Game of Thrones-

Eric Goodman:
No spoilers.

Alyssa Zeff:
No spoilers. No spoilers. But we would be here forever in silence if we had a moment of silence for everyone who died on Game of Thrones. So, Eric, thank you for being here today.

Eric Goodman:
Thanks for having me.

Alyssa Zeff:
Speaking of Game of Thrones, that's a nice little segue, today we are going to talk about storytelling, I think Game of Thrones is an excellent example of storytelling-

Eric Goodman:
What not to do.

Alyssa Zeff:
Yes, exactly. But specifically, we're going to talk about corporate storytelling. So why don't we start with just a definition, when we say corporate storytelling what is that? If you had to define it in a couple sentences what would you say?

Eric Goodman:
Well, I think it's more about appealing to employees’ natural affinity for stories, so it's basically using storytelling techniques within your business communication. It's as simple as that.

Alyssa Zeff:
Yeah, I totally agree with that and I think it's about finding those connections to everyone in the organization regardless of what function, or region, or anything that they work in, it's that connective tissue.

Alyssa Zeff:
So, why is storytelling important for organizations? What do they get out of it? What do employees get out of it?

Eric Goodman:
Well, I don't think storytelling is important for organizations, it's really important for the people. I mean, people learn through stories and we always have. Our brains are wired that way. It goes all the way back to caveman days, we didn't have corporations, or occupations, or even civilizations, storytelling was used for survival. We had cave paintings and eventually language and even after that we had writing, but we mostly talked about teaching future generations how to survive, what plants you can eat, what animals you can hunt, what tribes are friendly. So if you think about storytelling from that perspective, it's how we learn. So you don't want to do a lot of facts, you don't want to say don't approach a wooly mammoth, you want to say, "Oh, I can recount a tale of a narrow escape from almost getting trampled."

Alyssa Zeff:
Right. The caveman is not going to appreciate the length of the wooly mammoth's tusk or how much it weighs or anything like that.

Eric Goodman:
Exactly

Alyssa Zeff:
It's more like, oh my God, look what happened to me today, you want to avoid that.    

Eric Goodman:
Yeah. 10% of all wooly mammoth encounters, that's not going to mean anything to them.

Alyssa Zeff:
Yes.

Eric Goodman:
So that's how our brain work and it still applies today, stories are everywhere, movies, there's books, there's magazines, even gossip, when you're gossiping you're telling stories. So exactly what we're saying, you drop the facts and figures in the charts and you just start telling a compelling story, and employees will actually listen and hopefully, retain what you're saying.

Alyssa Zeff:
Yeah. And I would build on that to say, as humans we remember stories. I mean, if you think about what you share with people, it's stories, and that's what you hope that your employees are going to do, they're going to remember it and then share it because you want your employees to be your best brand ambassadors. So you want them to share your information about your company so you have to feed it to them in a way that makes them want to share it.

Alyssa Zeff:
So a lot of our listeners are probably intrigued by this and saying, okay, I want to do this, but I don't really know how, so where do they even start?

Eric Goodman:
Oh, that's easy, you can start anywhere. Stories can be used for any type of communications and it's not just your founding story, a lot of people think stories are this is how we came to be, but it could be ... I mean, it could be that, but it could be a motivational story about our customers, who are they, what are their needs, how are you improving their lives with what you're doing? You can build a connection between the employee's work and the people it impacts. Or, if you have a big change in your organization, what were the events leading up to it? What problem will it solve? How will it better position the company for the future? So first you just want to identify the story that you want to tell and start with your main idea and find out the one takeaway and you can make a story out of absolutely anything.

Alyssa Zeff:
Wow. How do you know who you should involve when you're putting your story together?

Eric Goodman:
It depends on what kind of story you want to tell. Definitely get your leaders involved, I would say your most impactful speakers, the ones who can come across very naturally, that can just tell a story and ... Very dynamic speakers. I mean, you can tell the difference between somebody who's comfortable telling a story and anecdotes and somebody who's going to get rigid on stage and just want to point to charts. So just involve the people who you think are going to do the best job or the people who have the most knowledge about the story you want to tell.

Alyssa Zeff:
Yeah. I don't know, you and I have worked on a bunch of projects together where we've done storytelling and sometimes we've created those stories in a vacuum based on interviews of people who are very data driven and very not anecdotal in how they communicate and it was up to us as the communicators to turn it into that. So it could be that you're just involving people to gather the information and then you as the communicator, you Eric or me, or people who are listening, it's our jobs to really craft that story.

Alyssa Zeff:
So I want to talk about a little bit more about writing the actual narrative or story, tell me, what are the elements, what are the components that go into that.

Eric Goodman:
I mean, I think everybody learned this way back in probably elementary school you learned about the story ark, and corporate stories follow the same story ark that you would read in a fairytale. It's the same elements. If you just follow the key points or the main events, you can fill in all the details later.

Alyssa Zeff:
What does that look like, for example, in a corporate story?

Eric Goodman:
Well, we do this all the time with a lot of our clients and I have a lot of examples, but let's just talk about in generic terms so we don't give away any names, but this is how it can look. So a company's founded and it's built upon a mission and then the company delivers a solution and it helps solve an unmet need, but the company grows too fast and is not sustainable so now we're at the climax, that's the turning point, then the falling action would be the company develops a plan for the future and that sets it up for long-term success and then ultimately, the customers and the company win. So that's how you would map your company story to those same points.

Alyssa Zeff:
You and I worked on a project together which was interesting because it was a company that was a result of lots of acquisitions so they didn't really have a story because they were made up of lots of different stories, and it was our job to help create that one narrative. So it's not like there was this thing in place where they had this about us and we just had to make it more storytelling, we actually had to create the story from scratch. We had to pull that information out of people and understand what it is, and I think, to pat ourselves on the back, we did a nice job of creating something that got employees to understand what it meant to work for this one company now versus their smaller company that they were used to or if they were a new hire what does it mean, and now they can see it. And we did it in a very emotional and a very narrative type of ways so that it wasn't confusing to them and it was empowering versus not feeling like, okay, what am I getting into or I like my little mom and pop company, why should I care about this? And it really, I think, helped them a lot.

Alyssa Zeff:
What do you think are some of the biggest mistakes companies make when writing their story or narrative?

Eric Goodman:
Well, right off the bat I think the biggest mistake that people fall into is trying to include way too much information, they want to cram every single detail in there, and they start way too early, they want to talk about all the things that led up to every single person who's ever made a decision that led to where they are now, and it's just not how people are going to learn. You really want to stick to those main points.

Eric Goodman:
Then we also see a lot of jargon, so not using language that's comfortable or familiar to people and using too many buzz words. Those are some of the most common issues you see with their stories and it really takes away from it being genuine.

Alyssa Zeff:
I completely agree and actually, in doing some research for this podcast, I came across a great article that was talking about how poorly companies tell their own stories. And so just some interesting stats in a narrative way-

Eric Goodman:
No stats.

Alyssa Zeff:
No stats. But funny enough, 47,000 companies, just from a quick Google search, consider themselves full service solution providers, so right off the bat full service provider. That's full service generic. Cost effective and end-to-end solution, 95,000 companies use those to describe themselves. And then 600,000 use provider of value added services. So I'm sorry, which company is not considering itself value added? So I just think, just building on what you're saying, if you are using these buzz words, this jargon, and not standing out, then you're lost in the shuffle, both for your employee, which is important for us, but also for your customers at the end of the day.

Eric Goodman:
And it seems disingenuous, it goes back to being you, just tell the story you would tell. Don't try to fill it with too much fluff, and buzz words, and jargon. Exactly.

Alyssa Zeff:
And make it easy for people to share.

Alyssa Zeff:
So I'm sure you have lots of advice, but if you could choose one thing to help our listeners with corporate storytelling what would it be?

Eric Goodman:
I would say it would be, take the risk and tell the story. It's easy to fall back on old habits and just go back to your facts and your figures and your data and do it the same way you've always done it. The most compelling speakers always tell stories, they tell their anecdotes, and you can really tell the difference. So ditch the slides and tell a relatable story and don't doubt your storytelling abilities, it's actually ingrained in your DNA.

Alyssa Zeff:
That was great. Eric, thank you so much for joining us today to share your insight on storytelling.

Eric Goodman:
It was great to be here.

Alyssa Zeff:
Thanks again for being here and thanks again for all your great advice.

Eric Goodman:
This was great. Thank you for having me.

Alyssa Zeff:
Thanks for listening to Employee Buzz where practical advice meets fun.

 

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